TECHNOLOGY IS EXERTING an ever-growing influence on our world. A cast including Facebook—or Meta—Google, and Apple, with leads like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Elizabeth Holmes, looms large in the public consciousness. Give the gift of knowledge to enlighten the technology-obsessed people in your life and help them learn more about the companies and characters dominating the industry, the news cycle, and, increasingly, our lives.
From painstakingly researched biographies and histories charting the rise and fall of modern business empires to deep dives into the birth of influential gadgets, these are some of the best tech books to gift. You may also be interested in our Best Cookbooks of 2022 and Best Kindles guides.
Updated December 2022: We have added several new picks to this guide.
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The Early Days of the Computer
The Soul of a New Machine
by Tracy Kidder
A well-deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this book should be required reading for anyone who works in technology or harbors a curiosity about how it came to dominate our lives. First published in 1981, the book reveals the inner workings of Data General in the 1970s as the company strives to design and release a successful next-generation minicomputer. Kidder captures the struggle between management and creatives and weaves a fascinating tale from an ostensibly dry subject. He explains the intense time pressure on engineers that lead to a constant state of crunch, the need for recruits to feel like they are working on something important they have some stake in, and the psychology of leadership intent on realizing ambitious projects. It is positively prescient about the dangers of burnout for the unsung heroes who sacrifice so much to build new machines.
Follow this up with WIRED’s article chatting with some of the subjects in the book 20 years after it was published (itself more than 20 years old now).
by Walter Isaacson
Released just 19 days after the death of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, this astonishing biography takes a deep dive into his life and goes some way toward explaining his enduring legacy. Isaacson was picked by Jobs himself, who granted more than 40 interviews to his biographer and reportedly exerted no control over the final edit. Jobs’ intense passion and ambition saw him successfully marry creative ideas with technological innovations and sell them to the general public. This is an accessible book that never gets too technical. It insightfully charts the rise of Apple and Pixar and the development of the Mac, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad. While it is flattering at times, Jobs’ ruthlessness is not sugar-coated, and anyone with more than a passing interest in the man must read this book.
For a less Jobs-centric exploration of the Mac’s development, read Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
by Jon Ronson
The dark side of the internet’s hive mind is brought into sharp relief by Ronson’s cast of characters—all have been publicly shamed via the internet. From the fascinating tale of Jonah Lerner’s plagiarism to the vilification of Justine Sacco after an ill-advised joke tweet decried as racist, Ronson digs into the stories behind the scandals and looks at the havoc relentless online shaming can wreak. The book is a fun and fascinating look at how shame, empowered by social media, is a forceful form of social control with real-life consequences.
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
by Steven Levy
I could have easily included a few entries from WIRED’s own Steven Levy on this list, from his hugely influential 1984 debut, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, to his most recent release, Facebook: The Inside Story, but I’ve chosen In the Plex. Despite the impact of Google, a company whose name has become a verb, most of us know little about its internal workings. This is the best book to read if you want to change that. Levy secured unprecedented access to serve up a fascinating dive into what makes Google tick, what drove successful expansion into new areas, and how the company and its products have changed the world.
If you want more, How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg offers some insight into management at the company.
The Rise and Fall of Theranos
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou
Noble aims and raw ambition are lauded in the tech world, often attracting praise and investment, but what happens when a project goes wrong? Building on Wall Street Journal reporter Carreyrou’s shocking exposé of Theranos, this book follows charismatic founder Elizabeth Holmes as she tries and fails to build a blood testing machine to sweep away the need for hypodermic needles, with the promise of accurate tests done from a drop or two of blood via a pinprick on the finger. Although the company raised hundreds of millions of dollars, its technology was horribly inaccurate. Rather than admit defeat, it pressed on, which is why Holmes was put on trial for fraud and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The book highlights the dangers of the popular “fake it till you make it” approach. Theranos reached a paper valuation of $9 billion and employed more than 800 people before its spectacular fall.
You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place
by Janelle Shane
Anyone with even a passing interest in artificial intelligence will get a kick out of this book, as it delves into machine learning algorithms and their limitations in an accessible, engaging, and often hilarious way. Shane is the research scientist behind the comical AI Weirdness blog, and she does a solid job of demystifying AI, explaining how machine learning really works, and highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. Although you’ll learn about things like Generative Adversarial Networks, the book never gets dull thanks to witty and moreish writing peppered with practical examples of AI attempts at creativity that are frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
by Michael Lewis
Opening on a computerized superyacht, the talented Michael Lewis takes us on an adventure into the mind of billionaire Jim Clark, cofounder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics. The book charts the power shift in Silicon Valley startups from “money men” to “idea men” and engineers. Lewis also attempts to uncover what drives Clark’s endless pursuit of the next thing and his seemingly unquenchable desire for more. This modern captain of industry is restless, constantly dissatisfied, and not very likable. The voyage is an interesting frame, and there are echoes in Kidder’s book of its subject’s idiosyncrasies and the author’s earnest attempt to explore what truly motivates him.
The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
by Margaret O’Mara
If you have ever wondered how such a small suburban area came to dominate the tech world, Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington, has some answers. This concise and comprehensive book weaves interviews, biographies, and countless other sources to explain how Silicon Valley has driven and dominated technological innovation. O’Mara exposes the foundations that self-mythologizing founders and businesses are built on, and the vital role the government played in their rise.
Folks seeking an insider’s view might like Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener.
An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination
by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
As the world’s most popular social network has grown, its dogged pursuit of users and blinkered focus on engagement has led to the creation of a dangerously effective persuasion machine. This book reveals that Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and other Facebook execs willingly sacrificed the privacy of their users and shirked any responsibility for fact-checking as they pursued growth at all costs. Facebook stands accused of giving unscrupulous profiteers, politicians, and anyone else willing to pay the ability to change minds about everything from who to vote for to whether to get the vaccine (you should). While Zuckerberg and his team did not set out to do this, An Ugly Truth does a great job of exposing Facebook’s repeated failures to stop others from co-opting the monster they created.
For a broader look at the company’s history and defining moments, read Facebook: The Inside Story by WIRED’s own Steven Levy.
For the Lols
Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America
by Joan Donovan, Emily Dreyfuss, and Brian Friedberg
Dismissed by many as harmless humor, memes have become powerful weapons in the culture wars. This fascinating book digs into the history of memes, examines their adoption by the alt-right and conspiracy theorists, and explains the role memes play in radicalization, misinformation, and even extremism. By distilling complex issues into seductive inside jokes, memes spread through social media, sowing social division and recruiting the disaffected. Well-researched and written, this insightful dive into online culture and its impact on modern democracy makes for uncomfortable reading.
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